Sunday, November 15, 2009

Number of Displaced Returning Likely To Increase, Will Iraq Be Ready?

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is the premier relief group working with Iraq’s displaced. They focus upon those who have lost their homes since the February 2006 Samarra bombing that is credited with starting the sectarian war. The IOM’s latest report notes that Iraq’s displaced still face many problems, and that the country’s provinces, especially Baghdad will face an increasing number of returns, which they may not be ready for.

The IOM believes that around 282,251 families, approximately 1.6 mill people, have been displaced since February 2006, with another 250,000 families becoming refugees. The IOM’s numbers mirror closely those of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). They recorded 202,018 families displaced before 2006, equaling 1,212,108 people, and 265,499 families losing their homes afterward, totaling 1,552,003 individuals. (2) Baghdad, Diyala, and Ninewa saw almost 90% of the displacement after the Samarra bombing.

The IOM has recorded about 58,110 post-Samarra families that have gone back so far, amounting to 348,660 people. That’s 10.9% of the families that have lost their homes. Of the returnees 6% were refugees, 3,659 families, and 94% were displaced, 54,451 families. According to the UNHCR’s figures, overall 40% of the displaced have returned since the beginning of the war in 2003. The two heaviest periods of returns were immediately after the invasion when 55,429 came back in 2003 and 291,997 did so in 2004, and then from 2008 to the present. 221,260 people returned in 2008, and 154,850 have from January to September 2009 as well. Like the post-Samarra families, the majority of those coming back have been internally displaced. In total, 703,190 have been internal refugees, compared to 426,156 who arrived from other countries.

The mix of displaced and refugees coming back varies from province to province. In Irbil, 103 families returned, and 100% of them were refugees. Muthanna was very similar with 64 families coming back, 88% of which were from abroad. In comparison Basra has seen 500 families return, 100% of which were displaced. In Ninewa 1,732 families have come back, along with 110,843 to Diyala, 99-98% of which were displaced. Baghdad has seen the most returns, 33,521 families. Of those, 69% came from within Baghdad province, 24% were from other provinces, and 6% were from abroad.

Post-Feb. 2006 Families Returning To Iraq – IOM
Baghdad: 33,521
Diyala: 10,843
Anbar: 5,553
Tamim: 3,873
Ninewa: 1,732
Maysan: 626
Basra: 500
Babil: 306
Karbala: 298
Najaf: 221
Salahaddin: 189
Wasit: 123
Dhi Qar: 108
Irbil: 103
Muthanna: 64
Qadisiyah: 44
Dohuk: 6

The reasons for displacement and return follow some broad trends. First, 58.1% have been displaced for one year or more. The major reasons for leaving their homes were being forced from their property, 23.6%, general violence, 14.3%, and armed conflict, 13.6%. Conversely, improvement in security is the main reason for families coming back. 43.17% said it was better security in their area of origin, 32.48% said it was a combination of better security and difficult conditions where they were, and just 12.98% said it was only problems with where they currently lived. Those difficulties include high rent, poor shelter, and lack of jobs and services. Those going back to Baghdad cite getting their old jobs back, help with transportation, repair to their homes and property, access to services, and wanting to put their kids in school as their main motivations. Of those that have gone back 61% said they feel safe all of the time. Almost half, 49%, said they had good housing conditions, while 34% said they were bad. In Baghdad, Diyala, Tamim, and Anbar, 42.5% said their homes were partially or completely destroyed.

The returnees also face a variety of problems. One is lack of jobs. 44.5% said they were able and employed, compared to 33.5% who said they were able and unemployed, and 22.0% who claimed they were unfit to work. While 98% say they had their ration cards, only 40% said they had regular access to the system, 54% said they had intermittent access, and 6% said they had no access at all. The government is also offering $840 for families that return. Only 44% of returnees have registered for the money however, and of those only 39% have gotten it. Other issues mentioned to the IOM were fuel, 44%, and health care, 42%.

Of those families that are still displaced, the majority say that they want to return. 52.7% said they wanted to go back to their homes, 25.1% said they would integrate where they were, and 19.7% said they would settle somewhere else. The problem the IOM pointed out was if conditions stayed the same or got better than Baghdad, Diyala, and Ninewa provinces could receive a lot more returning families. The question is what will happen then? The government does not have the capacity to deal with all the property claims that arise with large-scale returns. They have not been able to provide for those families that have come back, and have no real policy to deal with them overall. That could start a whole new crisis with thousands of families coming back, but not finding the support and housing they require, and not being able to provide for themselves.

UNHCR Numbers On Displacement And Returns

Displaced 2003-2009
Pre-2006: 202,018 families, 1,212,108 individuals
Post-2006: 265,499 families, 1,552,003 individuals
TOTAL: 467,517 families, 2,764,111 individuals

Returns 2003-2009
2003: 9,237 families, 55,429 individuals
2004: 48,655 families, 291,997 individuals
2005: 25,689 families, 154,155 individuals
2006: 28,355 families, 170,235 individuals
2007: 13,541 families, 81,420 individuals
2008: 39,280 families, 221,260 individuals
Jan.-Sep. 2009: 28,630 families, 154,850 individuals
TOTAL: 193,387 families, 1,129,346, 40% of total displaced


International Organization for Migration, “Assessment of Return to Iraq,” 11/3/09

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, “Return Update Iraq September 2009,” November 2009

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